European court decides 'torture' case

  • 2007-06-29
  • By Mike Collier
STRASBOURG 's The European Court of Human Rights has finally resolved one of Latvia's longest-running legal battles. On 28 June, the court delivered a judgment in the case Broka v Latvia, finding in favor of Latvia.

Following the restoration of Latvia's independence in 1991, Marina Broka's mother attempted to claim property rights over the Muzikanti farm in the Jelgava region, which had formerly belonged to her sister, and which comprised almost 33 hectares of land, including residential dwellings and other domestic buildings.

In 1993, Broka's mother re-acquired the property rights in the Muzikanti residential dwelling, but not the remaining buildings, some of which had since been converted and privatized.

Broka's mother died on 25 February 1997, but her daughter continued to fight for control of the original estate, racking up some four years and ten months of legal proceedings along the way, plus long periods of suspension. In fact the first hearing was held by the Zemgale Regional Court on 27 June 1997 's more than ten years ago.

The case found its way from the humble surroundings of the Zemgale regional court to the august European Court of Human Rights when Broka brought a complaint under several articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, concerning the excessive length of hearing the case in the national courts.

However, while the court agreed that the case had indeed taken a long time to make its way through the Latvian courts, it held that Broka's complaint about an alleged violation of Article 3 of the convention [which concerns the ban on torture] was "manifestly ill-founded".

The court also agreed with the Latvian government's argument that the length of proceedings was connected with the complexity of the case and the difficulty of establishing the exact inheritance status of the various parties involved.

Under European law, Broka has three months to request that the case be referred to the court's Grand Chamber consisting of 17 judges, but given the decisive tone of the ruling, the likelihood of such an appeal succeeding seems remote.

Had Broka succeeded in her action, it could have had considerable implications for Latvia's law courts in general and property law in particular, but Europe's endorsement of Latvia's legal process means that the case looks set to go down as an interesting footnote in legal history and a lucrative decade-long payday for the lawyers.